Monroe County began administering COVID-19 vaccinations to emergency medical service workers on Monday.
First in line to be immunized was Hardy Schulz, 62, an EMT with Brighton Volunteer Ambulance.
“It meant a lot to us providers because we’ve been around the COVID patients for most of the year, and we can’t social distance in the back of an ambulance like most people can out in the open,” said Schulz.
Schulz has been an EMT for 40 years, a career he began after serving as an Army medic in the 1980s. He said he’ll be back for his second dose in 28 days.
He’s one of 2,000 EMS workers from 19 agencies across the county who are in the last group in the first bracket of vaccination distribution.
Front-line hospital staff began getting vaccinated two weeks ago. Nursing home staff and residents were next in line a week later.
“Protecting our first responders from transmission of the virus is critically important, especially as we continue to see a surge in COVID-19 cases in our area,” County Executive Adam Bello said in a statement. “I’m pleased to see that our EMTs and other emergency personnel are among the first to receive this historic vaccine.”
Capt. Tim Hutchings with Brighton Volunteer Ambulance said Schulz is one of two emergency workers from their agency who were immunized on Monday. The agency designated that staff who are over 50 years old and working full-time were given first priority.
“It helps quell the fear that we’re bringing this home to our own families, which has been one of the most difficult parts of all this,” said Hutchings. “Knowing we’re going to be inoculated is just a huge relief.”
Initially, EMS workers were to obtain the vaccine at local hospitals in mid-January. A county spokesperson said officials worked with the University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health to deliver vaccines to the county’s Fleet Center on St. Paul Street, where refrigerators and freezers were installed to store it.
“With the vaccine available in our community, we saw no reason to delay distribution. EMS workers are on the front lines every day,” Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said in a statement. “By vaccinating them as quickly as possible, we protect them and their families while ensuring they can continue to respond to critical calls for help.”
The vaccination clinic at the Fleet Center is expected to remain in operation for months as other emergency workers, including fire, 911 and law enforcement personnel become eligible for the vaccine.
“It is a huge relief knowing that we’re all in line for it. We all got the notification last week just before Christmas, so basically it was an early Christmas gift,” said Hutchings.